Costa Rica to Cease Police Training at Controversial U.S. Army School Print
President Oscar Arias vowed to stop sending Costa Ricans to train at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School for the Americas (SOA). The Central American nation is the fourth country after Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to sever ties with the school, citing its history of human rights abuses.

Washington, DC – Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced Wednesday that Costa Rica will cease to send police to train at a U.S. Army facility notorious throughout Latin America for its history of training human rights abusers and military dictators.

Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, made the decision after talks with a delegation of the School of the Americas Watch, including the Rev. Roy Bourgeois and Lisa Sullivan Rodriguez. The human rights advocacy group has campaigned since 1990 for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School for the Americas (SOA), located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American military and police, has graduated at least 11 military dictators and over 60,000 soldiers, many of which have been linked to some of the worst human rights abuses committed in the Americas. The school made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses committed by soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.

Costa Rica does not have an army but has sent some 2,600 police officers over the years to be trained at the school. Minor Masis, leader of Costa Rica’s former “Comando Cobra” anti-drug squad, attended the school in 1991 and returned to Costa Rica, only to serve a 42-year jail term for rape and murder committed during a 1992 drug raid. Costa Rica currently has three policemen at the center.

"When the courses end for the three policemen we are not going to send any more," Arias said.

In 2006, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would cease all training at the school, becoming the second and third countries to announce a cessation of training. In January of 2004, Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops to train at the school.

On June 9, 2006, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would have cut funding for the SOA/WHINSEC. While the amendment failed by a 15 vote margin, 35 Representatives who opposed the amendment lost their seats in the 2006 mid-term elections. Legislation to investigate the SOA/ WHINSEC and evaluate U.S. foreign military training in Latin America was reintroduced in the House of Representatives on March 27, 2007 as HR 1707, which already has broad bipartisan support in Congress.

Protests calling for the closure of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC have taken place around the November 16 anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests and two Salvadoran women at the hands of SOA graduates since 1990.